By TYLER HEATLEY
The Hungaroring race track is on the Formula 1 calendar for a very good reason — it is a test of both man and machine
We are living in a golden age of road-legal high performance supercars, with a self perpetuating arms race creating new bedroom wall heroes every other week. I’m certainly not going to complain about the hordes of exciting new metal hitting the road, but from the perspective of a road tester or an actual customer, it is fair to say that these cars can only really stretch their legs when given free rein of a race track.
I’ve been lucky enough to push cars to, and occasionally beyond, their limits at iconic circuits such as the Nuburgring, Estoril, Silverstone, Slovakiaring, and Circuit de Catalunya to namedrop a few. However there is one track I have never got on with… The Hungaroing.
The Hungaroring is a fantastic mix of lengthy straights and hard braking zones that lead into tight technical sections. Factoring in cambered bends and substantial elevation changes, you have a track that is a worthy addition to the Formula 1 calendar. It’s a punishing circuit where one error results in the entry of the next complex of corners being compromised. Frustrating is the adjective I’d use to sum it up. In the past I’d spent a couple of days here and still struggled to get into any sort of consistent rhythm — now I’ve returned to finally try and tame this famed track.
My choice of noble steed would be key to preventing an outrageous amount of swearing after finding myself off the racing line for the 4th lap in a row. I needed something predictable, stable, and communicative if I had any hope of rectifying past inadequacies. A row of freshly minted McLaren 600LTs was a promising start.
The first port of call was actually a McLaren 720S for some familiarization laps and tuition from McLaren’s hand-picked collection of high performance drivers. It was a good starting point as I was pretty familiar with the 710bhp supercar. Keen to soak up as much information from the pro driver as possible, I exited the pit lane with some ferocity to engage in the first round of battle with my Tarmac-clad enemy.
The advice from the racing driver came thick and fast, it had to as the 720S is a seriously quick machine, capable of 0-124mph in just 7.8 seconds. The crisp instructions proved helpful, but I still found myself struggling to find a line through the flatter sections of the track where there are few reference points. A tight chicane at the back of the circuit was the perfect example of braking too early, or too late, resulting in a skewed and slow exit.
By the time I killed the 720S’ engine back in the pit lane, I had improved, but the lap was still messy. Transitioning into the 600LT, I began to think that I’d never be happy with my performance at the Hungaroring, and that I’ll just have to chalk it up as simply being one of those things I’m not very good at — like drawing, or being able to fix my wireless printer.
The McLaren 600LT was a different breed to the car I had just spent time in. A 720S is the bread and butter of McLaren’s Super Series of models, whereas the 600LT is the crème de la crème of the lower category Sports Series. For those who don’t speak McLaren, that equates to less power, but a more focused machine.
It certainly looks the part with its aggressive aerodynamic bodywork that generates an extra 100kg of downforce over the 570S model on which it is based. Engineers also put the car on a diet, shaving 100kg of weight from the 600LT with the extensive use of carbon fiber. Oh, and how could I forget those sinister top-mounted exhausts that actually shoot fire!
Strapping into minimalist seats that were first developed for the hardcore McLaren Senna, the doors were shut, and I started the twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 engine. It erupted before settling into an intense idle, like it was eager to get to work.
It had rained at the track the evening before, and while the sun was high in the sky drying the Tarmac now, there were slippery curbs and damp shaded areas to be mindful of. I spent my first lap reprogramming the circuit layout into my brain. Turn one is a tight right hander that leads onto a short straight, and then a deceptively tight left turn as you head downhill.
Even at a reduced pace, the 600LT felt alert and responsive. Each twitch of the steering wheel resulted in a precise and controlled output from the car. With next to no body roll and a set of carbon ceramic brakes that I knew I could really lean on, I picked up the pace.
The McLaren 720S is one of the most complete cars the British marque has ever made, but out here in a motorsport environment the 600LT was without doubt the tool for the job. Traversing the aforementioned damp patches, it was far easier to gauge the available grip thanks to the vast amount of communication from the chassis. This teamed with the track conditions improving with every lap resulted in me posting my first satisfactory loop of the Hungaroring.
The track had dried enough for engineers to fit bespoke Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires. People underestimate the difference specific rubber can make, as they tend to forget that no matter how impressive the machine, the only part of any car touching the ground are its tires. This tread pattern, construction, and compound was developed for the 600LT to unlock its ultimate performance.
Fuelled with fresh ambition — and a light lunch — I roared back onto the track. After a lap of getting back in sync, I pinned the throttle wide-open, exiting the final corner and rocketing down the main straight with the full force of 592hp. The turbocharged motor built momentum without relenting, surging through triple figures that would usually put you in jail. But I didn’t have time to stare at the speedometer, because it was time to hit the anchors for the notoriously difficult turn one.
I braked as late as I dared and with considerable force, before bleeding the brake force off and aggressively pitching the 600LT into the apex. Almost without thinking about it, the nose of the car aligned with exactly the exit trajectory I was aiming for. The lack of hesitation and immediacy of response meant that less of my focus was on managing the car, and more on where I wanted to put it.
This almost telepathic driving style is the sort of thing you find in the very finest driver’s cars, and the fluidity it granted me allowed for some of the cleanest driving I’d ever managed on this track. I attacked the chicane with vigor, safe in the knowledge that those Pirelli tires would bite and the transition around the bend would be predictable. A momentary, but totally controllable nip of oversteer upon the exit suggested I was perhaps ‘overdriving’ the car, but it served as proof that the 600LT is a beautifully manageable machine that works with its pilot.
I came back to the pits a very happy boy. My laps were still far from record breaking, but I was finally happy with my performance at a track I’d struggled with on many occasions. It comes thanks in no small part to the capabilities and instinctive driving manners of the McLaren 600LT.